Wade Graham's grand final-winning teammate Luke Lewis declared it would be "cruel" if the veteran back-rower was denied entry to the elite 300 club as the result of his controversial four-match suspension. Graham's hopes of adding to his 278 first grade games and reaching the magic 300 milestone in what could be his 16th and final season in the NRL were dented when the judiciary panel outed him for a high shot on South Sydney's Davvy Moale.
The 32-year-old was seeking a charge downgrade from reckless to careless in the hope of reducing his ban to three matches instead of four. It took 75 minutes for the judiciary to reject Graham's submission, with NRL counsel Patrick Knowles stating: "This type of tackle has no place in the game of rugby league."
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Now eligible to return in round seven, Graham will need to play every one of Cronulla's remaining 19 regular season games from that point, plus at least three finals games, if he's to reach 300 matches this year. With no guarantee he will be offered a new contract for 2024, the former NSW Origin representative risks being stranded just short of the target.
Lewis, who played alongside Graham in Cronulla's 2016 premiership triumph, told Yahoo Sport Australia: "It would be cruel as a player to get to 299 games or in the 290s and not have the chance to make it to 300. You don’t really think about it while your career's going, but it's a huge honour to play 300 games.
"To play this game for so long with how hard it is on you, to get to 300 is pretty awesome. There are some pretty amazing players on that list and it's a pretty cool thing to have alongside your name. Hopefully Wade gets there, whether it's later this year or next year if he goes around again."
Wade Graham not guaranteed of spot in Sharks team
Graham admitted after his judiciary hearing he'd need to alter his tackling style when he returns, but his biggest challenge may be breaking back into the Sharks' 17. Coach Craig Fitzgibbon may be reluctant to change his bench rotation if Cronulla rack up a number of wins in Graham's absence.
But Lewis doesn’t believe this spells the end for the experienced Graham. "I wouldn't be writing Wade off," he warned. He will come back pretty fresh and still has plenty to offer."
Royce Hunt and Connor Tracey have been added to the Sharks' bench for Friday night's clash with Parramatta, replacing Graham and the injured Jack Williams.
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